fifteen global inclusive Innovation Challanges


Global Innovation challenges-1: a call for creative connections with children, youth and women

When any society learns to live with solvable problems by reinforcing inertia, indifference and also internalizing helplessness, then imagination gets stifled first. Once imagination gets constrained, innovations are unlikely to follow. UNICEF and SRISTI have joined hands to announce a global challenge award for  a variety of challenges described here: any one who thinks he/she can address these challenges through viable innovations is welcome to respond from anywhere in the world. SRISTI would facilitate connections between policymakers at different levels and the solution providers, so that no good idea remains untested. Wherever feasible, we will trigger action research to test the idea so that it gets sharpened and becomes more effective during implementation process.

Challenge one: Overcoming anemia among women, 60 per cent of whom and girls suffer from this problem in many parts of India and the world. Iron fish was an idea tried so that this cast iron fish would last a family of five for five years to provide sufficient iron by putting  it in curry while cooking. But there could be several inhibitory factors which may prevent absorption of mineral iron. Feeding sprouted pulses and grains was another idea tried by a teacher in governments school. Children brought every day a handful of grains and teachers sprouted them fed them and the conditions improved within six months. Think of extremely affordable solutions which can help women and children particularly girl child worldwide.

Challenge two: many girls drop out/have absenteeism due to onset of menstruation, lack of education about sanitary pads and access to clean toilets.  Unnecessary embarrassment about a biological fact is completely avoidable because educational system has not educated boys, and others in society properly. Recently a women member of parliament in a European country breast fed her child while participating in the debate. She did not care. Nobody should really care as long as she si comfortable doing what she thinks in the best interest of larger social responsibility and emotional care of her child. Think of innovative technological, social, institutional innovations which will make it possible for girls and women to deal with their biology with self-respect, confidence and completely without any inhibition.

Challenge third: a lot of young people drop out of education soon after tenth class or some after 12th class. Only a small number of young people are able to pursue higher education. We need to create online courses or  MOOCs for building their educational, social, and technological skills to not just solve problems, earn livelihood but also be more create creative and collaborative. What do you think will be most important concerns that youth worldwide will have common interest in so as to design online courses for them? What pedagogy will engage them most intensively. SRISTI  organized summer school on inclusive innovations for three weeks recently. College students of 15-19 year age besides some even younger learned to define an unmet social need, make mind map, analyze  problems fabricate solution, test these , redesign them and get user feedback in most cases except when field testing was not possible at this time of the year. What kind of innovations one can try in products, processes, systems and services (PPSS) so as to make a lasting difference to continuing education/empowerment of such youth. What are the most creative ways of engaging them in productive mapping o unmet social needs, and convert these into social or economic entrepreneurial opportunities should some of them wish to do so?

Global inclusive development challenges- meeting the unmet needs II

There are problems on which  several foundations have thrown billions of dollars but they still remain intractable. Last week I shared several such challenges with examples of some simple extremely affordable solutions but asking for more. Throwing more money doesn’t always help in generating more designs? In fact too much money by big organizations sometime also brings in only bigger actors, like large corporations and institutions offering solution. Since these organisations are often well endowed, their solutions even if some times good are rarely ever extremely affordable. They have not learned the art of frugal innovation yet. The linkage between corporations, large organizations (private or public)  and communities, youth and grassroots innovators  need to be forged. This is the precise purpose of global inclusive development challenges being launched by SRISTI-UNICEF collaboration.
Way back in 1978-81 when I was involved with an action research project on local district level support to development administration to address unmet needs in drought prone regions, we learned one of the pervasive lesson. When solutions are easily accessible and affordable, many public agencies lose interest in spreading them around. So the alacrity which extension messages in agriculture and health involving purchased inputs spread, the non-monetary input based solutions don’t diffuse as widely and fast. Distorted incentive structure and lack of efficient monitoring and lubrication of the delivery chain (which in the case of purchased inputs based solutions,  private sector does) are also a problem. But despite all these problems, we need to find better ways of solving problems and find even better ways of delivering them to millions of needy women, children youth etc.

Let me state three more challenges which we wish  to launch shortly, suggestions are welcome right away.

Fourth, the deficiency of Vit A and D is becoming epidemic as also vit B12 due to too much RO water. A NIH study (2016) found that almost 80 per cent of people relying on RO water were deficient in B12. The challenge is to not only discover community means of overcoming these problems, identify hotspots of sufficiency that is where even poor people are not deficient in these nutrients such as coastal communities. But we need to find many more such areas and local innovative practices. We should also identify community communication practices, folkloric encoding of nutrition linked messages. My mother fed us spinach by calling it ‘buddhi wala sag’ that is a curry which increased brain power. Our resistance gave way, we developed taste for it eventually. Thus identification of region specific traditional foods, herbs, grains, other sources (such a local dishes involving sprouted wheat or other grains) delivered in equally innovative and creative ways may be one solution. There could be many other ways which may appeal to poor working women, children and youth as a joyful engagement. GIAN has been experimenting with mobile community food and nutrition kitchen/workshops  to enable elderly women to teach youth about not just healthy foods but also healthy method of cooking them.

Fifth, almost all the tree/shrub nuts in forest where tribal people live mostly are crushed manually.  Low cost crushers suitable for a variety of nuts is an urgent need to improve productivity and income of some of the poorest people of the country. In the last two Summer Schools on Inclusive Innovations, students from the top technology institutions developed a few prototypes for the purpose using slightly conical cylinders moving in opposite direction manually  to crush nuts of different sizes and thickness. But we need many more solutions so that women and men can use it youth can set up small enterprises and children labour can be eliminated from this activity. SRISTI’s earlier study with ILO (Childhood Unchained) showed that whenever productivity is low, the exploitation of child labour becomes inevitable. Therefor for ensuring a better promising future for our children, it is most necessary that we remove drudgery from all rural and urban processing activities and let them gain their right to joyful healthy childhood.

Sixth challenge I wish to discuss is about the low cost –paddy transplantation and  inter-culture devices for women in paddy and other crops. Millions of women transplant paddy in back bending posture with feet in water for weeks and weeks. Their feet develop ulcers, back aches but without transplanting paddy, there will be no food for the family in rainfed regions. NIF had also issued this challenge but we could not get very good solutions so far. We need low cost easy to maintain, not too heavy manual transplanters and weeders which can reduce their drudgery, improve productivity and help them save time to do other productive things.

We look forward to hear from the readers worldwide and hope that we will be able to overcome our  civilizational inertia, so deeply embedded in our worldview that we don’t even see these as problems, much less to solve them. Write back to us soon at
 and become an active player in making our world more inclusive, innovative and healthy for women, children and youth among others.

Global inclusive development challenges-iii: educational transformation  

Seeking solutions to problems faced by the women, children and youth, particularly disadvantaged ones, worldwide is a challenge itself. I have shared six inclusive innovation challenges so far: a) overcoming anaemia among women through extremely affordable solutions, b) creating awareness about women’s biology, including menstruation among particularly boys and the rest of the society so that dropout rate of girls students from schools on this account can be eliminated, c) online teaching to build capacity of youth, who may have dropped out of school in defining unmet social needs and trigger their entrepreneurial solutions, d)  healthy traditional foods and systems of delivery to overcome widespread nutritional deficiencies among children women and youth, e) overcoming adverse nutritional effect of Reverse Osmosis method of water filtering such as Vit B 12 deficiency,  Vit A and D etc., and learning from healthy community practices, f) designing manual paddy tranplanters and other solutions to reduce drudgery in women’s back bending work with feet under water for weeks together, and g) design nut crackers and associated devices for lot of forest based products for tribal communities with particularly focus of women and elimination of child labour.

Seventh challenge: creating open source, multi-language educational content for children in government schools. We still don’t have many good database ( is an exception) of such content and an agile distribution system to reach them to every school; how to trigger creativity among children by including lessons and experiments on innovations and collaboratively design pedagogies for confidence building.

Eighth challenge: given dichotomous situation in education, majority of the children from economically poor backgrounds study in government schools. The quality of education in these schools generally has not been very good.  But several national and international competitions have shown that there are self-inspired students in such institutions who are very talented. Though only a few of them make it to the top. Developing a Mentoring platform and system for talented children in government schools in 650,000 villages in the country and eventually worldwide is a big challenge. How do we design such platform, what incentive system should be put in place for all stake holders to remain engaged, how to review and renew its design from time to time?

Ninth Challenge: managing transition from micro finance to micro venture innovation finance. Recently I met several students form schools in suburbs of Paris at #Ouishare festival. Majority of them realised that their regions was looked down upon by the outsider as  not so good or safe region. Not many people from central Paris wanted to interact with them or support their ideaS. This problem is not unique to Paris. In Ahmedabad, or Delhi or Mumbai or Nairobi or elsewhere, such schools exist in marginal areas. I asked each of these students to share their ideas, particularly the novel ones which they wish to take forward (see live interview with these students at  Armond wanted to design pockets attached to a belt to rest one’s elbow while talking on cell phone. Mehdi wanted to make a material library to help people choose materials for making their houses in different climatic and environmental conditions. It was easy to get million euro investment but not 250 or 500 euro that he needs to test market his solution and then refine it. Social Innovation Fund at SRISTI  will fund him. Micro finance helps people for scaling up activities for which market exists. But micro-venture innovation finance (MVIF) is for those innovative ideas for which market doesn’t yet exist (see How do we design such funds all over the world to invest in very early stage of socially useful ideas by youth in rural and urban areas? By the time these youth set up companies or formal ventures, ninety percent of their ideas would have been aborted for want of timely small support. We need multiple models for funding, mentoring and testing such ideas for eventual scaling to the next level, though one should not reject some of the niche specific ideas even if these cannot be scaled up at much higher level.

Tenth challenge: public sanitation is a major national and international program for which toilets are being built. But recent official reviews have shown that a very large number of these toilets are not being used because of lack of sufficient water. Challenge is to design water-less toilets which need no or very little water. Which kind of self-cleaning surface such pots should have for remaining continuously functional? What kind of other cleaning technologies can be used to maintain safety, odorless condition and yet maintain high degree cleanliness?

Reinventing micro-finance movement for women: global inclusive innovation challenges-iv

In this last part of the series of UNICEF-sristi global inclusive innovation challenges, I wish to invite innovation champions from around the world to address some the paradoxical polices and institutional traditions. See earlier ten challenges at .

Eleventh challenge deal with one of the great social innovation at one time, that is Micro-finance. But this movement needs to reinvent. We have to face the challenge that hardly one per cent or even less of the total purchases made by the members of self-help groups and micro-finance groups are made from each other. How to develop horizontal market rather get integrated with only vertical markets.   Why should not the advantage of small savings and whatever additional income they get be not spent on the products and services provided by other women’s groups in the region. One should also explore the scope for entrepreneurial and innovation  opportunities for those members of these groups which wish to take more risk, try new things out though group as a whole does not seem ready yet. How to create pathways for graduation of  these group to macro-finance is another issue waiting to be explored in the right earnest. Else, it will seem that women are good enough only for micro-finance but men will rule the roost in macro-finance, doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Twelfth, declining ability to deal with paradoxes of life is leading a large number of children and youth into depression. They fail to understand the need to be patient in some cases, and impatient in other cases. The contradictory behavior of adults further compounds the situation. There are also physiological reasons which are contributing to mental health issues at young age. Societal readiness to destigmatize it as a  normal health issue has to increase. What are the innovative ways in which we can address this increasing social anomaly? How to provide mental health support to children and youth at a large scale recognizing awful gap in the supply of such facilities worldwide. Which kind of devices or apps be developed to deal with this problem. A girl child faces more rejection than a boy and is overruled more often. Thus, she may be prone to such issue a bit more as reported in some studies.

Thirteenth: mobile and online libraries are a must in this age when reading habits are changing very rapidly. How to make an open access multi-language, multi-media library of DIY (do-it-yourself) manuals, and other literature to young learners?  The library may include ideas for biodiversity management, tips on nutritious culinary creativity, mapping local under-utilized and unused resources, general development of secular mind having a spirit of solidarity with fellow beings and nature; art, culture and fiction etc., available in every single village of the country and the world? The spirit of Grassroots Innovations will be reinforced by the promotion of what is popularly called as maker culture using local resources. Such a culture has existed for a long time as evident in the Honey Bee Network database of extremely affordable local solutions. But much more needs to be done to augment it.

Fourteenth:  Mapping unmet needs through school children can provide a powerful social and ecological connect besides triggering the young minds towards solving the problem.  Children Creativity workshop organized during last three years in collaboration with UNICEF have demonstrated their enormous ability to sense the unmet needs of the workers, artisans, community members.  They offer sometime the solutions that have defied our imagination for decades if not centuries.  How to incorporate the process of mapping unmet needs in the school curriculum so that they can learn to be impatient with inertia.  The Honey Bee Network has always argued that children should not be treated as sink of sermons.  Instead, they should be treated as source of ideas. 

Fifteenth:  It is not necessary that all the building blocks of a specific solution will occur to one person, institution or even at one place.  One of the greatest challenges of our time is to provide collaborative platform for young minds to learn from each other, build upon each other’s ideas in an open, reciprocal and responsible innovation framework.  Designing such a platform that will encourage youth across the world work together notwithstanding the language, culture, spatial and other barriers. 

All these 15 challenges need to be widely shared so that we can mobilise not only ideas but also volunteers willing to test these ideas in real life.  SRISTI and Honey Bee Network hope that this collaborative initiative with UNICEF will unleash the creative and empathetic potential of formal and informal sectors.  We invite corporate leaders, academics, community members, voluntary organisations, administrators and other individuals to brainstorm on these challenges so that we can make a real difference to the imaginative, collaborative and creative horizon of children, youth, women and other social segments.

HB16(4)Satpal chabra_september 2005




Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place


  1. Sanjay Choure

    Problems that require inovative solutions should be discussed with as many people as possible,
    I want to shate these issues with students of our college,may be they could offer certain problem solving

  2. Sunil Satai

    I have some ideas about low water toilets/ public toilets modifications auto cleaning needed for better sanitation.

  3. shashikant baranga

    Dear Prof. Gupta ji;

    I am happy to note “15 challenges” & I would try to contribute my bit towards few of them, soon.

    Trials of new-pedal-system on normal Bicycle is planned to be over by Aug, end. Still, it has given me some food for Innovation.

    thanks a lot.
    with best wishes
    shashikant baranga

  4. Dear Sir, all challenges need utmost attention. am sharing it with my friends who are social innovators working at grassroots level, but for them understanding English language is difficult. Sir, can I also get your article in Gujarati. They will grasp it easily and may be come out with extremely innovative ideas.